This weekend I read a (re)tweet from a talented person that expressed this basic sentiment:
How come the guy reading a book at a park bench doesn’t come under the same scrutiny as the guy checking his email at the park bench?
My initial thought was, “Hm, good question.” But after thinking it through, it makes sense to me why these two activities are different and why people have had enough of the second scenario and are expressing annoyance when it occurs.
The guy reading the book, even if in a public space, is usually there for that very reason. He wants to read a book and has chosen an attractive, comfortable place to do so. He’s made the decision to give his attention to this activity and is following through on it.
The guy checking his email comes under scrutiny because most likely he’s come to the park for some other reason. But rather than devote his attention to that reason, he’s fragmenting his attention and checking his email (Twitter, RSS, Facebook etc.) while also giving his attention to the primary reason for being there. He is in fact doing performing both activities less well than he would if focused on one at a time.
Let’s be realistic here: I’m making the assumption that the tweet in question originated from a person who has had this scrutiny directed at them (present company knows the feeling). No one would really complain about the person who purposefully takes their connected device to the park to enjoy an attractive, comfortable session of email responses. Really — there’s no reason for complaint there.
The complaint comes from the fact that a lot of us are sick of the friend or acquaintance who gives us less than their full attention. The complaint also comes because we’re starting to get tired of being that person ourselves. Especially when we see the cost is has on our relationships with those we care for the most.
At the end of the day, when my kids are asleep and the house is quiet, is when I’m reminded of my greatest fear: nearing the end of my life and looking back with regrets. Especially regrets regarding my investment in my children. I’m thankful to be in a place where that fear has started to overcome the desire to stay up to date.